Round 99

Hi Eric, I started climbing at age 54, at a weight of 171 lbs. and with lifelong arthritis…and fell in love with climbing. I’m now 58 and 119 lbs., but frustrated that I can’t seem to gain any of the strength.  Am I just too old to increase strength by a significant amount? Should I just be happy I can even drag myself up a 5.9, or do I have reason to hope to climb 5.10 or 5.11 in the future?  –Suzy (Wisconsin)

Hi Suzy, I’m so happy to hear from you—your story is inspirational! In recent years, I’ve heard from many 50- and 60-somethings that geot into climbing later in life….and they all find it a rich experience. What’s more, I’ve heard from many who came to succeed at 5.10, 5.11, and sometimes harder. I believe you can definitely become solid at 5.10 and, quite possibly, 5.11 as well. With just four year’s experience you can surely improve your technique and climbing economy a lot more than you think—as a skill sport, most folks can improve in this area for 10+ years—so strive to always work on footwork, smooth/brisk efficient movement, and believe that you can continue to improve in this area.

Yes, it’s hard to make major strength gains after 50 or so, but you can improve in this area somewhat. Especially muscular endurance, if you practice climbing on overhanging walls a few days per week. It’s hard to give specific advice in this email, so I encourage you to consult a climbing coach in your area for an evaluation and specific training advice. Good luck, and I’d love to hear an update from you in the future.

Hi Eric, I frequently travel for days in a row–do you have any suggestions for training I can use while on the road? Currently, I do push-ups, pull-ups and lock-offs (using a rack I hang from the doorway), and planks. Any other ideas would be appreciated. Thanks!  –Jason

All the exercises you mentioned sound good to me. A couple suggestions: Pack a single 10 lb dumbbell for your travels—you can use this to do internal and external rotation (important for a strengthening your rotator cuffs) and you can hang the dumbbell around your waist (or place it in a small backpack) to add weight for your pull-ups and lock-offs. Depending on the diameter of your pull-up bar, you might even be able to do some 4-finger pull-ups gripping the bar with different 2-finger-pocket combinations. Finally, going for a run to train-up your aerobic capacity (and counteract a diet of restaurant food!) is easy to do if you pack a good pair of running shoes.

Dear Eric, I just injured my ring finger and this is unfortunately a reoccurring problem for me. Do you have any suggestions for me to avoid this in the future? –Ante  (Croatia)

The ring finger is the most commonly injured in climbing, so you are not alone—it’s usually the ring finger of the non-dominant hand. So for me as a right-hander, I’ve had my left ring finger A2 pulley injured a few times. Knowing this, I go easy on that finger…and I tape it tightly before hard climbs or hard training.  You should do the same. So ultimately, you must learn to climb in a way that prevents putting extreme loads (especially dynamic) on this finger.

Dear Eric, I’m in the process of ordering your H.I.T system. What do you suggest for foot holds, and how fast should I move from hold to hold? Do you have any other inside tips on how to make my HIT workouts most effective? Thanks! –Alex (California).

Hi Alex, The HIT System is an incredible training tool, but initially you’ll want to go easy (avoid overtraining excitement!) and follow all the guidelines included with the system and on this web site. For footholds, you can bolt on small modular holds; a cheaper alternative is screwing on several small blocks of wood (1 to 2 inches deep). You’ll probably want to tape your fingers (x method) and/or sand a little texture of where your fingers wrap over the HIT grips. Be sure to leave on all the texture where the first pad of your finger grips the HIT Strip, however. When doing HIT, move briskly up the strips hand over hand. If you have 5 strips, your goal is to go up and down twice without stopping—20 total hand moves. If you can do this for a given grip, then you want to add weight for the next workout with that grip. Add weight gradually, and cut back on HIT strip workouts if you develop any weird pangs. Cycle on and off of HIT strip workouts every few weeks—consider using it as part of a 3-2-1 cycle.


Hello! I am 16 years old and I’ve been climbing for 4 months. I weigh 190 pounds and I’m wondering if using the full-crimp grip will hurt my fingers? My concern is significant, because I play classical guitar and I’m beginning to play semi-professionally. Thanks in advance for your valued input. –Miguel (Ohio)

Good to hear from you, Miguel.  Climbing will NOT permanently hurt your fingers, although you can get skin and tendon injuries at times. I also play guitar (poorly),  and climbing has never been a problem. Really, it’s good to have another activity outside of climbing, because you cannot climb every day. As for the full-crimp grip, try to use it only on small holds and favor the open hand grip on pockets and larger holds. With practice, you’ll get very strong at open hand grip and reduce the chance of hurting a finger crimping too much. Good luck, my friend!